How to Ace School Author Visits

15th February 2022
Article
10 min read
Edited
9th March 2022

In her latest post for Writers & Artists about what happens after an author is taken on by a publisher, Nicola Garrard offers guidance on how to ace school author visits.

Nicola Garrard - 29 Locks - School visit

For writers of YA and Children’s fiction, school visits are a huge part of book promotion. Visits reach new readers, increase sales through word-of-mouth publicity and encourage adoption by teachers and school librarians who are the gatekeepers of books for young people.

But the idea of stepping into a school for the first time in years can be daunting! Writers who have worked in education or youth work have a headstart, but with preparation, all writers can deliver excellent school author visits that leave young people enthused to read, and some even inspired to become writers themselves.

For me, school visits are the most enjoyable part of being an author. It’s a golden opportunity to meet readers, hear what they think about 29 Locks and talk about its difficult themes such as racism, poverty and drugs. I speak at inner-city schools where the tragedies of knife crime and child criminal exploitation are everyday events and where young people identify personally with my protagonist, Donny’s experiences. But I also visit leafy home-counties schools where young people with little or no experience of poverty and crime want to learn more about their world through reading and developing empathy.

But wherever the school, teenagers are the same; gangly, awkward, shy, clownish, charming, earnest. I love how they strive to make sense of society and often hope to make a difference one day. It is a joy to meet them and experience their enthusiasm for stories and optimism for life.

Here are some writers’ tips for making the most out of your school author visits.

 

Before your visit:

  • If you haven’t spent time with your book’s target readership, volunteer at a local school or youth club to familiarise yourself with children and teenagers. Watch how educators and youth workers communicate. A lot may have changed since you were at school!

  • Voice training. Teachers are used to projecting (‘throwing’) their voices. You will sometimes address large groups of young people, sometimes in large, echoey spaces like gymnasiums and assembly halls, so do some voice training using free tutorials on YouTube. If you do not train your voice, it will sound thin and disengaging. Trying to rectify this by shouting is physically damaging. You will need to be heard comfortably at a range of up to 30 metres and this needs practice. Singing also helps to train your voice! Writers with disabilities that make voice projection difficult should let the school know and request microphone amplification. Schools will make reasonable adjustments for visitors’ needs.

  • Set aside plenty of rehearsal time, both at conversational and voice-projection volume. Listen to professional audiobook readers and copy their delivery, pace, intonation and volume. During your readings, try to ‘act’ the dialogue to distinguish characters - for younger children this can be exaggerated to aid comprehension. Record yourself reading the extracts you will use during your visits.

  • Plan and rehearse your presentation materials and activities well in advance. Longer sessions allow time for creative writing, debating and drama activities. If sessions go unexpectedly quickly, plan an activity to fill in the time before the end. If you have slides, use a dyslexia-friendly font and background colour. Ask a teacher to look at your materials to check they are age-appropriate.

  • Ask your publisher to provide promotional materials/merchandise. I take a large poster to leave with the librarian, postcards with the front cover of 29 Locks and a #TeamDonny-branded teeshirt as a prize when teaching creative writing sessions.

  • Update your author website with details about your school visit offer and testimonials.

  • Most school periods/lessons are between 45 and 60 minutes. In extended sessions or double-lessons, authors can offer more in-depth discussions and creative writing activities. Prepare to be flexible!

  • The usual format of a school visit is:

    • A presentation (about why you became a writer and/or wrote this book)

    • A reading (x2 seven-minute readings work for teenagers, but shorter readings are better for younger children)

    • A Q&A session, where young people can ask any questions. Expect to be quizzed on your plot, your next book and how much money you earn. During one Q&A, I was told off about the death of a character, for which I could only apologise. Young people often attach to fictional characters emotionally, so take questions at face value however bizarre.

    • Older children appreciate tips on how to access jobs in writing and publishing. Offer some mentoring feedback via your website for young people who may want to ask more questions later or show you a story they have written.

 

How to find schools

There are many school author visit companies who advertise for a fee; choose a reputable one that is used by schools. The Society of Authors can advise, and have useful materials on the contractual side of school visits. 

Other ways of finding schools:

  • Draw up a list of schools with which you have a personal connection; your old school, your offspring or friends’ offspring’s schools, friends who are teachers, your local school.

  • Find out the name and email address of their Head of English and School Librarian; most schools publish staff email addresses online.

  • Personalise your contact email and draw attention to your personal connection.

  • You can also use social media to connect with school librarians.

Be professional in your correspondence and answer email queries promptly. Keep a list of key contacts. Use an email signature with the name of your book, an image of the cover and any awards or listings your book has achieved. Here is my email signature:

 

Nicola Garrard - 29 Locks - Signature Strip

Draw up a FAQ sheet to send schools with details such as:

  • Your fee structure (half-days, full-days, video-link fees)

  • The talks and workshops you offer

  • Testimonials

 

During your visit:

  • Arrive 30 minutes before your first session to allow time for signing in at the school visitors’ reception. Many secondary schools are huge so it can take a surprising amount of time to walk from Reception to the classroom, hall or library where you are speaking. Let the school know if you need lifts so they can accommodate mobility requirements.

  • Follow the school’s Coronavirus rules, including taking a lateral flow test before arrival.

  • As young people enter the classroom or assembly space where your session will take place, stand near the door. Use this opportunity to:

    • Smile and make eye contact!

    • Don’t be shy! Break the ice before you have been formally introduced by greeting them personally with cheery variations of: “Hello, how are you? Welcome. Lovely to be here. Good morning/afternoon!”

  • Smile! Smile! Smile! Teenagers, in particular, can display social anxiety and shyness as aloofness, smirking or giggling, but you can charm this away with positivity. Before you start your presentation, tell them how happy you are to be at their school and meet them. Tell them you have been excited about your visit and can’t wait to start. Pre-emptive friendliness will make young people more likely to engage with you, participate in discussions and ask questions.

  • Speak and read more slowly than you would normally. If you feel like you are reading too slowly, you are probably reading at the correct pace for listeners who do not have the text in front of them.

  • When reading from your book, look up often and make eye contact with individual students in different parts of the room. This will make each member of the audience feel you are reading to them personally.

  • Children and teenagers get fidgety before lunch, break and home time. They are usually hungry and may need the toilet, so don’t be offended if they start looking at the clock and shifting in their seat. If restlessness starts, make them feel at ease by saying something like, “Wow, it’s nearly lunchtime! Are you guys hungry? I am! We’ve only got a few more minutes, so let’s end with…”

  • During a Q&A, praise each question before you answer: “That’s an excellent question” “Thank you for asking that” “That’s an intelligent question.” It takes most young people a lot of courage to speak to adult visitors so reward them in this way.

  • Remember to take two good-quality pens for signing, spare change if you are selling books, and a bottle of water.

  • Take books with you to sell and offer to sign the school’s copies. Ask for a table and have a piece of paper handy when signing to check you have the correct spellings of names before writing a personalised dedication.

  • Thank the young people for welcoming you to their school. Praise their engagement, questioning and listening skills.

  • Depending on the content of a book, young people can decide to disclose to a visitor information that raises a safeguarding concern. Because of the themes of child criminal exploitation and racism in 29 Locks, this has happened to me several times during school visits. Report all concerns to the organiser, however small.

  • If you are allowed to take photos, do not share on social media without student and parental permission.

 

After your visit:

  • Write an email thanking the organiser for having you and praise their students’ behaviour/engagement/listening. Offer to come back for follow-up sessions.

  • Send lesson plans and classroom resources to schools to accompany your book and leave a hard copy with the organiser after a visit.

  • Format your emailed resources into Word documents rather than pdf. so that teachers can embed them in curriculum planning. Teachers like to share the resources they make and are not precious about copyright, viewing lesson plans and activities as collegiate documents.

  • Send your invoice and update a spreadsheet so that you can chase and for tax calculations. Most school and university finance departments have paid me within 30 days, but some writers complain about late payment.

  • Ask for feedback from schools to use as testimonials on your author website.

  • Keep in touch with updates about your writing, for example, awards and new publications.

  • For further advice, contact the Society of Authors

Most of all, enjoy your visits. You will feel like a minor celebrity for the day and be treated like a VIP! Young people love meeting new adults and your enthusiasm for writing may inspire someone to read for pleasure or take up writing themselves. Good luck!

 

Nicola Garrard has taught English in secondary schools for twenty-three years, including fifteen years at an inner-city London comprehensive. Her debut YA novel, 29 Locks, is published by HopeRoad. She is longlisted on the Branford Boase Award 2022 for outstanding first-time novelists. She lives in Sussex with her family and a Jack Russell terrier called Little Bear. Connect with Nicola on Twitter @nmgarrard or via her website Nicola-garrard.co.uk

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Comments

Very valuable advice

Profile picture for user Jaye Sarasin
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Jaye Sarasin
23/02/2022